Travel, especially to an underdeveloped country, can be an eye-opener. Traveling to Peru taught Diane Valenti gratitude.
My guide, Marco, showed up promptly at 8 a.m. His clothes pressed to perfection, face scrubbed, and shoes shined. I could still see the comb marks in his damp hair.
I, on the other hand, was a rumpled, sleepy mess. Arequipa was the last leg of a long scouting trip that had included a five-day trek over the Salkantay pass on the way to Machu Picchu. I was almost out of clean clothes and energy.
Our first stop was a nearby café so I could fortify myself with the thick, black, syrupy coffee they serve in Peru and we could plan our tour of the White City, as Arequipa is known.
We spent the day wandering the labyrinth of streets inside the four-centuries old Monastery of Santa Catalina, exploring a 17th century flour mill made of volcanic rock, and admiring the mummy of Juanita voted one of the world’s top 10 discoveries by Time Magazine.
As the day wore on and the shadows of the three volcanoes that surround Arequipa lengthened, the trust and openness between Marco and I grew.
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We spoke of our respective lives. He told me that he had a wife and baby, and it wasn’t long before he was pulling out his phone to show me the photos of his smiling family.
He told me that they lived in one of the settlements I had passed by on my bus ride from Puno. These ragtag settlements were little more than corrugated metal shacks precariously propped up on giant sand dunes lining the edge of the main road. I had heard that many of these settlements didn’t even have basic services such as electricity and sewage.
I had pictured the inhabitants as people living on the fringes of society in desperate poverty. I had never expected to meet, let alone work with, someone who lived in these run down conditions.
Marco went on to explain that he and his family bought water from a truck that circulated their neighborhood. I flashed back to the comb marks in his damp hair when we met in the hotel lobby, thinking how much effort he must have put into getting ready that morning.
Water. My whole life I have taken for granted that water would flow when I turned on the tap.
I think one of the lessons of travel is that it can make us aware of and grateful for what we’ve taken for granted so far.
What do you take for granted? What are you grateful for?